2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament
2011 Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals Recap - Michigan vs Illinois
(4) Michigan 60, (5) Illinois 55
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The Michigan Wolverines appeared to be down and out, sinking like a rock on the very Friday afternoon when they had to be good.
Fortunately for the Maize and Blue, the Illinois Fighting Illini happened to be on the other side of the court. With Illinois, no lead is safe and no period of prosperity lasts for very long. This was never more true than in a Big Ten quarterfinal that likely ushered Michigan into the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan might not be a lock for the field of 68, but coach John Beilein’s boys are awfully close to that point after rallying to claim a five-point win thanks to a late-stage charge which was matched by a spectacular collapse from Illinois. Just when the Illini were on the verge of playing a rarely-seen complete game and kicking fourth-seeded Michigan to the curb, a familiar theme emerged for the No. 5 seed from the Land of Lincoln.
The Illinois basketball program has underachieved in a very big way ever since its best season, the 2005 joyride to the NCAA national championship game against North Carolina. Six years ago, Illinois bench boss Bruce Weber guided a team with NBA-level talent to college basketball’s grandest stage, coming within a few points of lifting the trophy and listening to “One Shining Moment” with Jim Nantz at his side. In subsequent seasons, however, Illinois has fallen precipitously, carving out a reputation for underachieving on a regular basis. Illinois has just one NCAA Tournament win since the 2005 season, a huge disappointment for a school with access to Chicago’s prime high-school talent. One specific problem that has plagued Illinois has been its chronic inability to win close games. This nasty habit was on display in this matchup with Michigan.
With 8:35 left in regulation, the Illini led a cold-shooting bunch of Wolverines, 51-39. Michigan was hoisting threes and not attacking the rim, the two bad tendencies that always accompany the Wolverines’ less inspired efforts on the floor. Illinois was locking down on defense and taking the air out of the game, preventing Michigan from finding the fuel it needed to wage a comeback. Then, however, Illinois stopped doing the kinds of things that a team with a sizeable lead should do: The Illini stopped attacking the bucket, stopped passing the ball, and stopped moving with fluidity and purpose at the offensive end of the court. Michigan gained confidence on defense, and that positive energy flowed to UM’s offense. The Wolverines scored on three Illinois possessions (all of them bad) to tie the score at 51-all with 3:31 to go. Minutes later, with the score tied at 53, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. (yes, the son of the former NBA star) knocked down a tough three to give UM a 56-53 lead. Illinois reduced the lead to one on a Mike Davis jumper with 1:15 to go, but four foul shots – two by Hardaway and two by Zack Novak – iced the game in the final 48 seconds. Illinois’s implosion was complete, and Michigan became a near-certain NCAA Tournament team in 2011.
Next Game: Big Ten Tournament Semifinal No. 1
(4) Michigan vs. (1) Ohio State – Saturday, 1:40 p.m. ET, CBS
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